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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 7

Senator BOSWELL —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Education and Training. I ask: how long has the government been aware of the gross failings in DEET's detection of fraud as highlighted in last night's Four Corners program? Why have successive ministers allowed taxpayers' money to be squandered when it was meant to be assisting the unemployed? Why has no one been brought to account to answer these very serious allegations?

Senator SCHACHT —I did not see all of the Four Corners program last night, but I saw some of it, and I have had a briefing provided by my ministerial colleague Mr Crean. Accordingly, I am able to provide the following information to Senator Boswell.

  In late 1992 DEET established four prevention units to identify fraud, to investigate cases, and to promote risk assessment and fraud control action plans across labour market programs. Concurrently, internal audit activity on these programs was increased. As a result, improved program guidelines have been introduced, contracts with providers have been strengthened, computer system controls tightened and risk assessments recently completed as a basis for developing fraud control action plans.

  These measures are producing results. Since 1992 around 200 cases of alleged fraud—of an estimated value of $2 million—in labour market programs have been dealt with or are currently being investigated. The incidence of fraud is low compared with the program expenditure of $1.3 billion in 1993-94.

  Further measures to increase monitoring and stamp out abuses will be announced in the white paper which is, of course, to be presented tomorrow afternoon. The individual case of staff fraud—Evans in Western Australia—mentioned by Four Corners is atypical. Evans and his seven accomplices were in fact detected jointly by the AFP on the basis of information received and anomalies detected from DEET monitoring visits to firms.

  I therefore believe, Mr President, that the department at all levels is staffed by dedicated and honest officers who have demonstrated that they will move quickly to combat abuse. Again I emphasise the remarks made last night on the Four Corners program by Minister Crean when he said that in the white paper to be announced tomorrow he will outline further measures to be taken. He gave an unequivocal assurance that all action will be taken to ensure that fraud against the Commonwealth and against the taxpayers' money is dealt with as efficiently as possible.